fall arts preview 2017

Crystal Floyd Heeds the CALL of the WILD

Visual artist remains in awe of the natural order of things


Shadows stretch out and retract over a hangar-like space filled with workstations and display cases. Outside, Rosselle and King streets are deserted, as is Phyllis Street. But they’re usually that way, indifferent to this compound that’s covered in murals and street art, sitting squarely amid the three. It’s a Sunday afternoon at CoRK Arts District. There’s little discernible activity in the common areas inside. A stepladder stands opened and upright in the empty East Gallery. Saturday night was for throwing down; 1 p.m. on the Sabbath is about hangover atonement or a clean up, or it’s a distraction-free workday in the studio. Crystal Floyd is surely in the third sphere.

The Kinks’ Something Else is spinning on the turntable. Floyd walks over and clicks off the stereo, plopping down on a couch surrounded by books and various art paraphernalia. She admits to being exhausted. There’s a lot going on. Which is just what Floyd likes.

Floyd shares a space with welder Olivia Carr and letterpress printer/graphic artist Jamie Jordan. Combined with the erratic spring sunlight spilling through the high windows, the assembled media and tools either organized or scattered around the area, creates an anachronistic, if not otherworldly, atmosphere. A case filled with glass jars holding delicate flowers, desiccated bee hives, and bleached-white bones offset the sturdiness of Carr’s workstation of steel and tools; Jordan’s monolithic letterpress machine is a puzzle of black metal arms and gears. It’s a weird reliquary of industrialism and funkiness. Floyd’s iPhone lies next to a glass jar filled with fossils. A book on alchemy and mysticism finds a home with a fossil guidebook. “At its base level, it’s all of my mixed-media materials—and it’s usually to create an assemblage,” says Floyd, when pressed about the meaning of this vast assortment of nature adoration and straight-up weirdness. “A lot of what I do is problem-solving: Does it need screen-printing? Then I’ll screen-print. If I have to paint it again or stitch some cloth together, I do it. It’s not necessarily what I enjoy doing, but it’s really based on what I need to finish a piece.”

On the floor of the main West Gallery space sits a large wooden grid. Inside the compartments of this grid is a kind of controlled explosion of items similar to what can be seen in Floyd’s shared studio. A voltage meter’s wires arc over four butterflies that seem poised to take flight inside a narrow picture frame. An accordion, its bellows fully extended, appears to exhale over a small, 1930s-era radio. Antlers offset a bouquet of fake flowers; a washboard is placed two feet away from a menacing-looking black-and-white timer. The collected objects are somehow incongruent and logical, a mixture of organic and inorganic, manmade or nature-born.

The grid is a diffuser wall to be hung in the Bear Machine Studios that Ben Cooper (aka Radical Face) has just opened. At 17 feet by 5 feet, the wall is a kind of tactile panorama of Floyd’s work. It’s largest piece she’s ever created. Once it hangs on the studio’s back wall, it’ll enhance the space both sonically–as it influences the spreading of sound–and aesthetically.

“An opportunity I enjoy the best is something like this: for someone to know my art and trust me enough to build a damn 17-foot wall for a recording studio,” says Floyd. “It shows me that I’ve built up some level of trust creatively. And I don’t want to keep creating the same things over and over again.”

Crystal Floyd was born and raised on the Westside of Jacksonville. “I am Westside through and through,” she says. An early love of nature coincided with her mom Nancy’s sensibility that was geared around arts and craftwork. Her mother painted murals and painted and refinished furniture, with her dad Fred pitching in when needed. A mural by Nancy Floyd is still featured prominently at Webb Wesconnett Regional Library. “She was pretty intense about scouring yard sales, antique stores and estate sales,” she says. “And, unsurprisingly, I have that same kind of obsessive streak.”

By the age of seven, Floyd was already rolling up her sleeves; helping her mom and dad restore, paint and refinish furniture. “Even then, I never thought, ‘This is a girl thing and that’s a guy thing.’ My parents never taught me in that way. And I’m grateful for that because I think that’s still pretty rare.”

Floyd acknowledges Robert Rauschenberg, Joseph Cornell and Joseph Beuys as three artists who opened her mind to the possibilities of assemblage in her youth, but she cites Charley Harper as the one artist who affected her even earlier. Along with his notable wildlife-themed works used in the 1961 book The Golden Book of Biology and Ford Magazine, the Cincinnati-born Harper also made prints and posters. Floyd saw Harper’s savvy visual mix of natural subject matter, Modernism, deft line work, color selection, and a certain playfulness as highly appealing.

Floyd flips through the pages of an oversized collection of Harper’s work, filled with animal illustrations and Pop Art-style naturalistic scenes.

“His aesthetic–which stays with me to this day–is just perfect.”

If there are influences on her work, Floyd sheds those precedents in creating highly personal pieces that evoke shadowy cryptozoology as much as strategically plotted collage. Arranging naturalistic objects as a diorama is fairly common. Floyd’s decision to take a glass-domed display case and meticulously arrange what appears to be a coyote skull breathing into a glass sphere full of floating dark feathers is her absolute imprint. Repurposing or reappropriating through media is forgone in favor of her reverence and respect for her materials, much of which were once an actual living, breathing thing. She’s consciously dipping into a well that breaks down visual art into the two universal, flickering pulses of life and death, and nature’s cycles that roll forever forward. “When I go to a spring, I’m thinking of what the Native Americans must have felt,” says Floyd. “Of course they thought nature was some kind of god–because it’s so amazing.”

Even though her formal art education ended after she graduated from high school, Floyd’s love of creating and curiosity helped define her as an autodidact. This in turn became a DIY philosophy mixed with an eagerness to learn from others. “Even when I was a teenager, instead of taking drugs and partying, I was literally taking cake-decorating classes,” she laughs. “And still at least once a year, I try to learn something new.”

Since then, Floyd has honed her inquisitiveness and sense of potentiality into work that rewires the fixed view toward “arts and crafts,” artisanal and gallery pieces. Currently she’s adding to her already-busy days with woodworking lessons from fellow artist Russell Maycumber, who’s also on the faculty of Flagler College’s art & design department.

“I always want to be confident using the tools that I have and not have to wait for any reason,” she says. “I get so frustrated if I’m making something and there’s a small hurdle that I’m not confident in resolving. I want to move through it smoothly instead of banging my head against the wall.”

By any measure, Floyd’s arsenal of skills is impressive. “I think people put these mediums in a box; if you use textiles, it’s suddenly ‘crafty.’ But I don’t think so, since people do some incredible things with textiles,” she says. “If you look at some Victorian embroidery or quality costume design, it’s just amazing; it’s not a craft.”

Floyd is a proponent of incorporating, and then elevating, forms and creative practices that are sometimes dismissed by some arts scenes. What some may see as aesthetic consistency, Floyd sees as a complacent attitude toward change. “There’s no excuse. How can you learn something? Open a book, watch some YouTube videos, and break some things as you go,” she laughs.

Along with assemblage, she’s equally adept at painting, illustration, printing, photography, textile and embroidering, murals, arts consultation, curating—even horticulture.

That last one is evident in her innovative approach to two forms that merge earth with sculptural art: terrariums and Kokedama. The first involves a sealed glass container, usually filled with plants and decorative objects; the second is a Japanese gardening method that creates a sphere-like plant with the roots of a bonsai tree which can then be hung from a string. In Floyd’s hands, the toggling of horticulture/visual art is apparent, with terrariums filled with flora, succulents, cacti and pebbles; her cryptic additions represent a type of microcosm of the world. The Kokedama plants (literally, “moss ball” in Japanese) are its inverse, the macrocosm where plant life has evolved, if not escaped from, its previous incarnation.

Floyd has taught workshops locally at the Cummer Museum of Art & Gardens and Museum of Science & History, along with private group lessons. “At first, I was really anxious, but I realized that no one knows what I’m supposed to know–except me,” she laughs, at her earliest forays in showing others how to build terrariums from the ground up. “But I soon realized that not everyone finds making something like this so easily done. So that kind of reinforced my own confidence through the whole experience.”

The workshops also added the title ‘teacher’ to Floyd’s already extensive résumé.

Floyd is also regularly commissioned to create original assemblages for clients. Years of constructing these works have given her experience in everything from which materials shape visual harmony or dissonance to the best adhesives to keeping the piece durable over time. “I think people who commission me to make something of what they love, might have an idea for what they want, but don’t have a sense of composition,” she says, of building works either elaborate or minimal. She points at one piece comprising various organic and arcane objects set within an antique letterpress box.

“They like something like this because it’s fairly simple—but sometimes good things are just simple.”

Floyd’s workspace is evidence of a honed aesthetic of selecting materials—possibly even the comforts of strategic collecting turned hoarding. At first resembling potpourri in a serial killer’s home, the sight of a decaying possum skull marinating in graying peroxide on a shelf becomes weirdly appropriate. Source materials are accumulated in various ways; some found during her trips to various springs within Florida or the mountains around Asheville. “Going through the woods and collecting things really makes art almost a byproduct of my lifestyle,” she says. A turtle’s shell or preserved butterfly is procured when Floyd heads for the woods; other items find their way to her unsolicited. “People think I’m a taxidermist, so they’ll show up and hand me a dripping bag of warm meat,” she says, grinning and shaking her head.

Floyd has established a connection with the owner of a bio-educational supply house in Cocoa Beach, who in turn partners with regional zoos and animal parks and culls materials when an animal dies of natural causes at either organization. The cleaned bones are then sent back to their point of origin, to be used as educational tools. He also hooks Floyd up with more exotic fare. “If I buy skulls, it’s from him,” she says. “I only go about this in the most ethical way that I can.”

In the past five years alone, the now-37-year-old Floyd has maintained a stream of steady accomplishments. She’s exhibited in group and solo shows, including three exhibits at the Cummer, as well as venues in Pasadena and Minneapolis. In the near future, she’ll be featured in the group show, Chalk, curated by Barbara Colaciello. On Nov. 18, CoRK holds its annual Open House, and the general public has the chance to check out Floyd’s remarkable art (and workspace) along with those of the rest of the creators at CoRK.

Floyd’s tacitly blue-collar aesthetic keeps her focusing on the task at hand. It comes down to the art-making rather than the absurdity of entitlement that detours and deranges some artists. “Thinking you deserve something without [making an] effort is bizarre to me,” she says, while acknowledging that there is no real “level playing field” in the arts. “But what happens or doesn’t happen to you as an artist really isn’t about you. And if you obsess over that, it will eat you alive.”

Wonderment, respect, indifference and fear–at times even the destruction–of Earth is the literal common ground of the entire human race. Yet it all depends on where we choose to stand. We can either evolve with the planet or continue to be Earth’s most relentless enemy, attempting to dominate and force our will on the very terrene that so freely creates us and then sustains us; finally destroying us, and feeds us into the next cycle.

Crystal Floyd hopes to continue to tap into this kind of bucolic biorhythm of a rising and falling world. There is a wellspring of emotionality, ideas, materials and potential to spin her surroundings into wholly other places.

“I think there is magic in this same natural thread that has inspired people. And I want to keep tapping into that greater connection.”


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